Last month, my twelve-year-old daughter participated in a workshop with a casting director in New York City. The kid was asked to prepare a song and a monologue, and she brought “The Lamest Place in the World” from “13: The Musical” and a Snoopy monologue from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
After she sang her song, about a young teenage girl welcoming the cute new boy to her boring, awful town (“which just got a little bit better”), the casting director said, “Good job. Great choice for you. Keep working on getting your ‘mix’ voice on the high notes, but great, great choice.” (Implication: Even though you can’t quite execute the song perfectly, I approve of this piece for you.)
After her Snoopy monologue, she said, “Snoopy’s a boy.” (Implication: Find something more suited to your type.)
Now this casting director was the real deal, having cast a myriad of national tours and TV shows, and she showed up with generosity, support and incisive insights. Everyone reported that they had a great time and learned a lot. The experience was well worth the time and money.
In fact, one of the reasons it was worth the time and money was because the director could instantly identify “type”. Directors will tell you, having the right “fit” between the performer and the role surpasses virtually anything else in importance when creating a successful project. But oh my goodness:
Snoopy’s a boy? He’s not a boy! He’s a DOG! He’s not even a DOG, he’s a CARTOON DOG! He’s a cartoon dog, who, himself, has such a vivid imagination and performance range that he shows up as everything from a vulture to a WWI Flying Ace.
Why advise an actor, then, to discard the piece, merely because of gender? How tightly have we constrained our own vision, if we cannot assess a performer’s talent, style, personality, or skills, because they are saying words that in a traditional production were uttered by someone slightly different?
Because, this casting director knows about casting directors.
One of the lessons her students learned was to know your “type” and how to play to it. This is not a comfortable thought for some of us these days, but there are lessons for us on our stages, too. We might ask ourselves:
- What are my strengths and best qualities?
- How can I showcase them?
- Where and when am I most in alignment with my strengths?
- How do others’ see me? Do I know what “offers” I bring into the room with me? What do I telegraph? What biases or stereotypes might others have of me?
- How can my awareness of those help me help others see me more authentically and fully?
Of course, I think there are also questions to explore on the other side of the scale. Questions about challenging those stereotypes and assumptions – whether they come from the inside or are projected onto us:
- Where do I limit the roles I allow myself to play?
- When I want to perform in ways that are unexpected, how can I set a context that makes other people prepared to receive me?
- When and how am I stereotyping others unnecessarily
- What characteristics or requirements have I assumed are necessary for a role that might not be?
- What roles am I “wrong” for, that I’d love to play?
An ongoing conversation at Koppett revolves around the relationship between authenticity and performance range. What do you notice as you expand your performance range? We’d love to hear from you.